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Seeing What's Ahead

“On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” (Genesis 22)

People always want to look into the future. They want to know if their decisions will prove successful. And yet, when Abraham looks at Mount Moriah from a distance, he does not know that how this journey will unfold or even that it is a test. Often, we do not see what we are meant to see when we look into the distance. We cannot know what the future holds.

When Abraham next lifts up his eyes, he sees a ram. And he turns away from slaughtering his son Isaac and understands that the intended sacrifice is different than he first believed. Was the journey for naught now that its intention has changed? What he believed the future held is far different than what transpires.

When looking from afar we often do not understand what is intended. When making decisions, we often get the distant future wrong. Our intentions are transformed when we see what is actually unfolding before our eyes—at least if we allow ourselves to be influenced by events.

“And Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening and lifted his eyes and saw camels approaching.” (Genesis 24) Riding on these camels is Rebekah who will soon become his wife. He cannot know that he will grow to love her or that her embrace will offer him comfort after his mother’s death. He sees only caravan in the distance. He does not see Rebekah.

“And Rebekah lifted her eyes and she saw Isaac.” (Does Rebekah see more clearly than her husband to be?) Even though she sees Isaac, she does not know about the life they will build with each other. She cannot know that their son Jacob will become the father of the children of Israel. Who can see that far off into the distance? Who can know what the future holds?

No one. No one except for God. We lift our eyes, but do not see. We see more clearly when looking back rather than looking ahead. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes: “They all see things in the distance, but there’s always more in the distance that we can discern. Something else is coming down. We only realize this in retrospect.”

No matter how powerful the lenses, no matter how extraordinary the eyesight, we cannot know what lies ahead of us. Lifting up our eyes is not the same as seeing. We only truly see, we only truly understand, when looking back. There life’s meaning, the steps and missteps, the ups and downs, become more discernible in hindsight.

We lift our eyes, like our forefathers and foremothers, in expectation. There, in the distance, mystery unfolds. And then, and there, we might be awed. In Hebrew the word for seeing is similar to that for awe. When we truly see, we open ourselves to the possibility of being awed.

Set out to the unknowing. Look back for the knowing.

Open your eyes to awe.